New Treatment Manages Chronic Pain Without Opioids

Special Reports

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – Catherine Brunschwyler loves hiking and biking, but for years, she had put that on hold because she suffered from excruciating chronic pain in her feet. 

“It felt like I had a vice on my feet; so tight,” said Brunschwyler. 

The pain was so intense, she had to quit her career in nursing. 

Her condition; small fiber neuropathy.  At first, her doctor prescribed narcotics, which only worked for a short time. The side effects made her life miserable. 

“It’s not really living if you have to be in chronic pain and on medications, because the medications didn’t take the pain away. They just helped me cope,” said Brunschwyler. 

To Catherine, the longer she stayed on medications, the more she worried about getting hooked on them. 

“What would I have done. My physician who has known me for many years knew that I wasn’t a drug addict. What could have happened?” she wondered.  

After surgery, acupuncture, and injections failed to work, Brunschwyler was referred to Dr. Tim Deer at the Spine and Nerve Center of Thomas Health, St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, West Virginia. Deer specializes in non-opioid, non-invasive therapy. 

“She met the criteria well, and she was quite responsive to it,” said Dr. Deer.  

Brunschwyler was a candidate for a procedure called Dorsal Root Ganglion (DRG) stimulation.
It’s FDA approved therapy device from the company Abbott. It uses electrical stimulation, not medication, to help reduce pain. 

“We do a temporary phase to see if someone responds to placing an electrode around a nerve. And if they do respond, we go to permanent device,” said Deer. 

These kinds of innovative implant devices are also being used for another common source of chronic pain – spinal stenosis – the space that narrows where nerves pass through the spine causing aching back pain. 

For that, Dr. Deer uses an FDA-approved implant from the company Vertiflex – placing it between the veterbrae to hold them open and relieve pressure on the nerves.  

These implants attack the pain at it’s source, potentially replacing the need for most prescription opioids. 
It’s a game-changer in the ongoing opioid crisis.  

“I think we are changing the game, but also changing people’s lives dramatically in the right patients with the correctly chosen procedures,” said Deer.  

These advanced procedures seem to be working. 

In more than a dozen clinical studies involving 500 patients (source: ACURATE IDE 2018), eight out of 10 people saw significant pain relief while undergoing DRG therapy alone. 

Future development of these implants could bring even greater success. 

“In one of the studies we just completed, the device is almost like artificial intelligence. It actually changes with the patient’s nervous response. That’s the first of it’s kind,” said Deer.  

This progressive implant therapy is giving sufferers of chronic pain like Catherine Brunschwyler a new lease on life. 

It’s so effective, Brunschwyler can now return to an active lifestyle and get back on the hiking trail. 

“I feel like I have my life back,” she said. 

Resources:

HELP4WV offers a 24/7 call, chat, and text line that provides immediate help for any West Virginian struggling with an addiction or mental health issue.

DRG therapy: 

Patient website to learn more:  Abbott’s DRG therapy

Veriflex

(Superion implant device

 

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